African American Theological Ethics

A Reader

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Editor(s): 
Peter J. Paris and Julius Crump
Library of Theological Ethics
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , January
     2016.
     350 pages.
     $45.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780664232191.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Peter J. Paris and Julius Crump's African American Theological Ethics: A Reader will be a helpful resource to teachers and scholars of African American religions and ethics. As outlined in the book's brief introduction, this text focuses on "two significant temporal dimensions of the African American experience: namely, memory of the past and hope for the future" (xv). As such, this book makes a claim about how African American ethics and theology "emerged out of their [African Americans'] history of suffering and struggle over a long period of time" (xv). With this narrative in place the book, following the introduction, is organized into six parts and contains thirty-seven chapters. The majority of these chapters are historical primary sources familiar to any scholar of African American religions, though some of the later chapters are essays in reflection of the field, about theological ethics, or cover the history of black religion in America. Authors include Richard Allen, Shirley Chisholm, James H. Cone, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Barbara Jordan, Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, and many more. The book's six thematic sections include four focusing on resistance and two concentrating on religious innovation: "Opposing the Doctrine of White Supremacy" (one chapter), "Opposing Slavery" (nine chapters), "Opposing Racial Segregation" (nine chapters), "Opposing Racial Discrimination" (six chapters), "African American Religious Creativity" (four chapters), and "African American Themes and Perspectives" (eight chapters). With Paris's 2012 Presidential Address to the American Theological Society as the final chapter, the volume offers a look at the field and the history of African American theological ethics and looks forward. In that final chapter, Paris instructs black churches to "expand their prophetic purview," and be more active in issues of "social justice advocacy" (308).

One unique element of Paris and Crump's volume is their inclusion of those documents typically identified as primary sources along with essays that are more of a commentary on the field and the topic—notable examples include Charles Long and Cornel West. Many of those documents pair nicely with their selected primary sources. While this text likely will not displace Milton Sernett's African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness (Duke University Press, 1999) as the anthology of choice for many teachers of African American religions, Paris and Crump's volume will make a useful supplemental text. For example, the chapters from Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Thurgood Marshall, and Chisholm will be integrated into my own course syllabus. A course more specifically focused on black theological ethics or black Christian thought will likely find this to be a key text.

Though Paris and Crump's volume has a general introduction, the text might have benefited from an introduction for each of its six thematic sections. This would make it a more useful as a teaching text, and might answer some questions regarding how and why they chose these documents and this organizational structure. The documents selected for the four resistance sections coalesce together well, but the last two groupings—especially the one on "Themes and Perspectives"—are much broader in their topics and thus, do not have the same narrative flow of the previous four sections. Additionally Part 1, "Opposing the Doctrine of White Supremacy," contains only one of the thirty-seven chapters, which makes the text seem a bit unbalanced. These concerns aside, African American Theological Ethics brings together a variety of historical and contemporary voices into one text and will provide all teachers of African American religions with a solid supplemental text for class readings and course content.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emily Suzanne Clark is assistant professor of religioius studies at Gonzaga University.

Date of Review: 
June 21, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peter J. Paris is the Elmer G. Homrighausen Professor Emeritus of Christian Social Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary. 

Julius Crump is a PhD candidate in religious ethics at the University of Chicago.

Keywords: 

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